With summer now in reach, countless campers and outdoors lovers are gearing up for a season full of sandy beaches, swimming holes and warm-weather fun on the water. Some may think that coastal beaches gather all the acclaim, but if you’re a savvy explorer looking for less-crowded freshwater fun, inland lakes offer what you seek. Oregon—despite being known for its vast forests—offers lakeshore camping in secret (and not so secret) hideaways from Mount Hood National Forest to Southern Oregon. The vast majority of lake camping in Oregon lies in the Cascade Range, a major mountain range that extends from British Columbia all the way to Northern California, and a major contributor to the formation of Oregon’s lakes.
In the Cascades, glacier-covered volcanoes and other snowcapped peaks provide a perpetual source of water. Gravity pulls all that water downward in the form of countless mountain streams, wild rivers, and roaring waterfalls. In many places, valleys and other depressions have collected both precipitation and meltwater over the ages, creating gorgeous ponds and lakes—with untouched shorelines just waiting for campers to explore.
10 Awesome Destinations for Lake Camping in Oregon
It’s these pristine lakes—and the occasional man-made reservoir—that now offer the best lake camping in Oregon. Here are some of The Dyrt campers’ favorite spots across the state.
Stretching out along much of the eastern shore of Diamond Lake, the Diamond Lake campground offers some of the most scenic lake camping in Oregon. Nestled between the Umpqua National Forest‘s Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey, this is an extremely popular summer destination with beautiful views of each peak from the water—and attracting no fewer than 700,000 visitors each year.
You can pitch your tent or park your RV at one of the 238 campsites at Diamond Lake campground, all of them equipped with fire pits and picnic tables. Fifty-one of those actually rest right on the lake. The campground is a great base to explore Umpqua National Forest and visit places like Toketee Falls or Umpqua Hot Springs. Additionally, you’ll be under 20 minutes away from Crater Lake National Park to the south.
“Diamond Lake Campground, true to its name, hugs the water with incredible, clear mountain views. Kayak and other boat rentals are available, and the kids will love the bumper car boats near the dock. There is a well-stocked general store. Lots to do, plenty of creature comforts, and gorgeous views. Plus you are super close to Crater Lake and Umpqua Hot Springs.” —The Dyrt camper Meghan O.
The most popular campground in the Mount Hood National Forest, the Trillium Lake campground lies on the shore of shimmering Trillium Lake and offers fantastic views of Mount Hood itself. It’s famous for its abundant recreational opportunities, from fishing and boating to hiking and cycling—all just 90 minutes from Portland.
Dozens of single and double campsites can accommodate both tents and RVs alike. Vault toilets and drinking water are available, as well as a large picnic shelter and amphitheater. In the summer, educational ranger programs are held on the weekends.
“A classic camping spot with an amazing view of Mt. Hood across Trillium Lake. The campground is nestled deep in old-growth forest with spacious sites and running water. The best feature though, is the easy access to the trails and fishing at Trillium Lake, and proximity to Mt. Hood.” —The Dyrt camper Eric L.
Resting below Mount Jefferson in the Willamette National Forest is one of Oregon’s premier outdoor adventure hubs—the Detroit Lake State Recreation Area. Featuring boat launches for everything from canoes to jet skis, water lovers can visit Detroit Lake in the peak season and get lost in Oregon’s rugged wilderness. Note that, because the lake is created by a dam, the water level is sometimes rather low. Especially from late-summer to spring, there may not be enough water in the lake to allow for boating.
The Detroit Lake Campground has almost 300 sites right on the shore of this reservoir. There are flush toilets and showers, swimming areas, boat launches and day-use areas. A visitor center has information, souvenirs, ice, drinks, firewood and other goodies that make this a great spot for families to go lake camping in Oregon.
“We’ve been camping at Detroit Lake for many years and love the beauty of the lake, the trees, and the mountain. We feel that the rangers are friendly and work to keep things looking clean and inviting. Campsites aren’t very far apart, however it seems like people in nearby campsites are always friendly and considerate for the most part.” —The Dyrt camper Lesa H.
The “little brother” of nearby Diamond Lake, Toketee Lake is another pristine lake for camping in Oregon near the Umpqua National Forest. The lake is technically a larger break in the North Umpqua River, a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River. This lake offers a refuge to numerous wild animals, including otters and beavers, eagles, blue herons and kingfishers.
The Toketee Lake Campground is rather small, but undeniably well-located. It has 33 campsites with fire pits and picnic tables. There are two vault toilets and a boat ramp, but no drinking water. Fifteen sites are reservable, while the others are first come, first serve. Toketee Lake is a quieter alternative to Diamond Lake, offering easy access Umpqua Hot Springs and the majestic Toketee Falls, making it one of the most varied places for lake camping in Oregon. If the campgrounds at nearby Crater Lake National Park are full, this is a worthy alternative as well.
“Great campsite for many activities in the area or a stop before Crater Lake. Very close to the Umpqua Hot Springs as well as, I’ve heard, awesome mountain bike single track. The campsites are fairly spacious with a nice fire pit and tables. However, there isn’t much privacy between sites. The bathrooms are typical NFS pit toilets and were very clean.” —The Dyrt camper Mitch H.
It’s easy to feel small relative to the earth when lake camping at Oregon’s Wallowa Lake-snowcapped mountains stretch over 9,000 feet tall, and surround the surface of the water on three sides in a scenic but intimidating way. Adjacent to the vast Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Wallowa Lake State Park offers a mixture of extreme conditions for adventurers, and family-friendly fun on the shores.
Activites at the park range from go-carts and mini-golf to horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. A nearby thriving artist community is where you’ll find amazing bronze items for sale. And if that’s not enough, Wallowa Lake is also a great gateway to Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river canyon.
The campground has 121 full-hook-up sites and 88 tents sites, as well as two yurts. There are showers, flush toilets and an RV dump station.
“I love this campground. It is near the lake, clean, with showers. There are go-carts and mini-golf nearby for families, and the gondola provides gorgeous views. You can hike, or ride up the mountains as well. Joseph is a great western and artistic community just at the other end of the lake.”— The Dyrt camper Joan H.
One of Mount Hood National Forest’s many stunning lakes, Lost Lake lies on the west side of the mountain, offering easy access to various hiking trails, such as the one to Ramona Falls. Other popular activities in the area include fishing, cycling, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. At night, thousands of stars twinkle overhead.
The Lost Lake Campground at Lost Lake Resort has 148 campsites and can accommodate both RV and tent campers. There are pit toilets, a handicap-accessible fishing dock, a boat ramp and RV dump station. A well-stocked general store sells everything you might need during a lake camping trip in Oregon, from fishing tackle and camping gear to firewood, ice, groceries, and beer and wine.
“Lost Lake is pretty famous and didn’t disappoint. Large but private campsites on a gorgeous lake with a quintessential view of Mt. Hood. You can rent kayaks, canoes, fishing poles, etc. Lots of walk-in sites, however, this spot is very popular so in the high season. You may have the best luck going mid-week or early in the morning to claim a spot.”— The Dyrt camper Heather W.
Of the many campgrounds on the shore of Waldo Lake—one of Oregon’s largest natural lakes—the North Waldo Campground is the most popular for Waldo Lake camping in Oregon. Set right at the water’s edge, the campground is surrounded by the Douglas fir and western hemlock forests of Willamette National Forest. Without an inlet bringing in nutrients, the lake doesn’t have much plant life and is exceptionally pure. On a calm summer day, you can see up to 120 feet deep.
The campground has 58 sites, all with picnic tables and fire rings, an RV dump station, toilets, drinking water and a boat ramp. Half of the sites can be reserved, the other half are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. North Waldo is a great starting point for wilderness hikes in the area, while canoeing, swimming and sailing are, unsurprisingly, quite popular as well.
“Waldo Lake is a fantastic choice for any non-motorized boaters, as motors are banned. We took our kayaks out onto the large crystal-clear lake where you can see straight to the bottom. Since there are no motored boats, the lake and campground were very quiet and peaceful. There is also an extensive trail around the lake, which can be followed on foot or bike. Salt Creek Falls is just down the highway and makes for an excellent day hike. Would definitely recommend North Waldo for a relaxing camping trip.” – The Dyrt camper Ariel C.
Tucked-away in the Mount Hood National Forest, Little Crater Lake is a small, freezing-cold, spring-fed lake filled with almost-impossibly clear water. While this lake and its name may appear to be a mini-replica of Crater Lake, these lakes were created under different circumstances; while Crater Lake was formed from a volcanic eruption, Little Crated Lake was created by dissolving limestone deposits with an aquifer at its bottom. It’s constantly around 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the Little Crater Lake Campground is not right at the lake, it still deserves a mention as one of the best places for lake camping in Oregon. The short Little Crater Lake Trail connects the campground and the lake, continuing toward the Pacific Crest Trail and nearby Timothy Lake. More than a dozen tent and RV sites are available, as well as vault toilets. There are no hookups.
“Absolutely amazing. Little Crater Lake is spectacular, and only a 5-minute walk from the campsites. Clean vault toilets, large campsites pretty well spaced out. Very quiet, 10 miles or so from the highway. Timothy Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail are less than a mile from camp. Mount Hood is nearby, although not visible from the campground. One of the best, if not the best, campgrounds I have visited.” – The Dyrt camper Darin D.
One of the most popular destinations in the Deschutes National Forest that comes with awesome Oregon lake camping, Walton Lake rests amid a landscape of mountain meadows and old-growth ponderosa pine forests. Its serene setting attracts campers from all across the Pacific Northwest, people seeking peace and quiet and/or outdoor adventure.
You can hike the Walton Lake Trail, which loops around the entire lake, go mountain biking, swimming or canoeing. Home to countless bird species, such as kingfishers, woodpeckers, blackbirds and jays, the area is popular among bird watchers, too. Additionally, Walton Lake is stocked with rainbow trout and catfish, making it a fantastic fishing destination.
Sites at the Walton Lake Campground come with picnic tables and fire rings with grills. Vault toilets are available, as is drinking water.
“What a sweet place, it was nearly full when we stayed, but still felt as though we were in the woods camping. Spaces spaced apart, quiet, beautiful lake, many fishermen, my daughter swam in the Lake, and we took a short hike for a beautiful view. Also a short day trip from the Painted Hills in John Day (45 min) which is well worth the drive!” – The Dyrt camper Lauren B.
Situated just north of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in the Mount Hood National Forest, the Clear Lake Campground features 28 spacious campsites for lake camping in Oregon on the edge of the frigid-but fun Clear Lake. There are vault toilets and drinking water, but no hookups. A boat ramp offers easy access to the lake, which is great for sailing, swimming and trout fishing. However, Clear Lake is also used for irrigation purposes, so keep in mind that the water level may be rather low during dry spells.
This is a great Mount Hood alternative to the larger and busier campgrounds along the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. If you’d like to escape the crowds at Trillium Lake or Lost Lake, camping at Clear Lake is a great place to get away.
“We absolutely love this place. Big, clean, camping sites. Cabins are nice as well. The lake of course is the best part. Crystal-clear but COLD. Great fishing. They have a little restaurant where you can rent boats. Bathrooms are nice as well.”—The Dyrt camper Shelby W.
The Farm in Eureka Springs, Arkansas is not actually a farm. It’s a beloved outdoor destination for many, and it’s something a little different to everyone. For campers in the Ozarks, it’s an often peaceful (sometimes rockin’) place to sleep outside.
For three days in November, it’s the setting for Spaceberry Music Festival, where campers and concert goers get groovy to jam bands, peruse arts and crafts, munch of local food, and gaze up at fireworks. For the rest of the year, it’s the place to go for a challenging 18-hole disc golf course and year-round camping.
What You Get With Camping Reservations at The Farm
The Farm Campground and Events is 160-acres of rolling Ozark hills, nestled against the Mark Twain National Forest. Tent and RV campers enjoy shady sites; 26 campsites feature water and electric hookups and the rest is primitive camping—you can pitch your tent just about anywhere on the property.
Campers also have access to a bathroom and shower house with hot water, a general store for snacks and last minute camping supplies, 3 miles of on-site hiking and biking trails, and The Farm’s famous 18-hole disc golf course.
To fill your days, choose to enjoy the property or head into the surrounding Ozark wilderness where you’ll find fishing and boating on Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the White River, all within 5 miles of The Farm.
Primitive camping is $10/night and full hookup sites are $20/night for two people. Additional guests are $10/each and using the disc golf course is an additional $5.
“The Farm has such an amazing, widespread, and comfortable atmosphere that you’ll never want to leave. In the morning you’ll be deep in the seas of fog, and at night you’ll be dazed by wide views of the stars.” — The Dyrt camper Jon W.
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After a long, hot car ride or a dusty hike, it’s lovely being able to slip into the water for a nice soak and a chance to splash around. From blue holes and waterfalls to beaches and hot springs, it’s no wonder that so many campers seek out campgrounds with pools. As picturesque and soothing as those natural water sources can be, however, sometimes it’s nice to have a swimming pool to count on.
It’s not hard to find great campgrounds with pools —you’ll often see swimming pools included in the list of amenities of private campgrounds like KOAs, Good Sams, and Thousand Trails. State- and federally-owned campgrounds with pools aren’t quite as common, and campgrounds with pools are pretty much nonexistent at more primitive camping areas.
11 Campgrounds With Pools Coast to Coast
Image of Juniper Spring State Park
That’s why we rounded up some of the best public and private campgrounds with pools around the country. This summer, you can camp and cool off with a convenient pool right outside your tent or RV.
Surrounded by Bald Eagle State Forest, Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area, and White Mountain Natural Area, Sunsational Family Campground is an easy place to relax and take a load off. The area is popular with hunters and anglers, surrounded by game lands and fishing streams, as well as families looking for campgrounds with pools (and plenty of other fun activities.)
Within a morning’s drive of New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh— not to mention smaller, family-friendly destinations like Hershey, Pennsylvania, it’s an accessible place to get back to nature, without having to sacrifice too much comfort. Sunsational Family Campground offers tent sites (including some right on Penn’s Creek, which runs through the property), RV sites with water and electrical hookups, as well as pump-out services and cabins.
There is also a brand-new bathhouse, as well as a camp store, activity hall with pool tables and arcade, ATV trails, propane fill-up station, and the pièce de résistance, a large chemical-free saltwater pool. It’s available for private parties, as is a large 16 acre field and group pavilion that can be rented for family reunions, weddings, and other events.
One hundred and twenty miles of the Appalachian Trail weaves through the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia, and Middle Creek Campground is an oasis for hikers on that stretch. This 42 site campground can accommodate tents, hammock campers, RVs, and even tour buses, with lots of welcoming extras that will either help you forget the long trek from Amicalola Falls if you’re a northbound thru-hiker or settle right into your outdoor getaway if you’re a casual camper.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are a magnet for anglers, cyclists, paddlers, hikers, and anyone who loves picturesque scenery—being in close proximity to metropolitan areas of Virginia and Washington, D.C. makes this a one-stop shop for all kinds of outdoor fun.This is not only one of Virginia’s finest campgrounds with pools— you’ll also find easy access to kayaking the upper James River, mountain biking up hills and curves along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and exploring the nearby George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. History buffs will appreciate the nearby Rapidan Camp, built as a retreat by President Herbert Hoover, not to mention the trails on Fork Mountain that were once trafficked by legendary moonshine runners.
Whatever you get into during your time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s nice knowing you can cool off in the on-site campground pool at Middle Creek. Beyond the pool, you’ll also find a swimming pond that has two slides and a small beach. Site 21 and 22 overlook both the pool and playground, too, making them a great request for families. The swimming pond is separate from the fishing lake closer to the front of the campground, too, so no one has to worry about their activities overlapping.
“All of the staff that we came into contact with were super friendly and helpful. We were immediately made to feel welcome. It felt like spending the weekend with friends and neighbors instead of strangers. Check-in is at the fully stocked camp store where you’ll likely be greeted by the two resident dogs. The RV sites are directly across from the camp store, but the tent sites were tucked back into the woods.”—The Dyrt camper Andrea N.
The tallest sand dunes in the United States aren’t on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, nor on the fringes of southern Oregon’s coast. In fact, they’re no where near the ocean, smack dab in the middle of the country in south central Colorado. The dunes are the result of tens of thousands of years of natural erosion and sand accumulation in the San Luis Valley, an area roughly the size of Connecticut.
About a minute ago in geologic time, the Sangre de Cristo Range and San Luis Valley were shaped not by wind and water as they are now, but by volcanic activity. You can still experience a little of that legacy by soaking in the natural hot springs that still dot the area, including some at Sand Dunes RV Park. Here, the owners have turned those natural springs into a campground with pools, plural. The swimming pools come in various temperatures and purposes— some used for community swim classes or as lap lanes, some for aqua yoga classes, other as indoor, adults-only soaking with a full bar.
In addition to all those campground pools out in a sea of sand and scrub grass and stunning mountain views, Sand Dunes RV Park also offers camping with amenities like water and electric hookups, coin operated showers and laundry, an on-site store with essentials (including swimsuits!), sandboard rentals, and even a basketball court.
“Easy pull in spots for your RV and campers. Well maintained bathrooms and facilities to use after a sandy day at the dunes. Relatively close to the dunes (About a 15 minute drive to the parking lot from the campsites). Would recommend staying here!” —The Dyrt camper Brock H.
Gone are the days of “Borscht Belt” summer resorts in New York’s Catskill Mountains where families would escape the heat of the city to spend months hula hooping, boating, and playing Simon Says at campgrounds with pools, a la Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. But you can get a little taste of that old school summer tradition at Adirondack Camping Village, where you can camp in tents, RVs, hammocks, or cabins. Best of all are the daily family-friendly activities like hay rides, movie nights, and marshmallow roasts, as well as amenities like playground, and heated campground pools.
There’s even more to do nearby. In addition to the stunning beauty of the Adirondacks, there’s also Lake George. A popular tourist destination for well over a hundred years, it was once home to Millionaires Row— an enclave of summer homes built by such wealthy families as the Roosevelts, Vanderbuilts, Whitneys, and Rockerfellers.
Now Lake George is beloved for a different million-dollar moniker, a state swimming and sunbathing spot named Million Dollar Beach for its 1953 price tag. Not only is there plenty of hiking, paddling, and boating to be had in the area, you can also take in views from the air, as hot air balloon rides are also fun pastime in the Adirondacks.
“We fell in love with this campground. It’s how camping should be. The sites are tucked away in the tall pines of the Adirondack mountains and provide privacy even if you have a neighbor.” —The Dyrt camper Kerrie F.
Over four million people visited Zion National Park last year, making it the fourth most popular park in the federal system. If you want to see what makes Zion so magical in person, but also beat the heat and some of the crowds, consider staying just outside the park at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. You’ll find extra amenities that make your outdoor getaway feel like a full-blown vacation.
There are several styles of lodging for every taste, from luxury vacation homes to cabins, deluxe Conestoga wagons, RV sites, tent sites, and glamping accommodations. You’ll also find sunset yoga, an on-site restaurant and coffee bar, horse stables, Jeep tours, mini golf, indoor climbing wall, hot tub, and a two-tiered campground pool with a slide.
“Great tent sites for a great price. The tent sites are well spaced and surrounded by trees. The showers were clean and plenty of hot water. . . The pool and hot tubs were an awesome bonus. Great place to stay you really can’t beat it at 14 bucks a night!” —The Dyrt camper Cheryl B.
South and central Georgia don’t get nearly as much outdoor love as the northern part of the state where the Appalachian Trail begins, and that’s a darn shame. Situated near Macon along the Fall Line, where the Piedmont plateau meets the coastal plains that run to the Atlantic, this part of Georgia is full of surprises—like campgrounds with pools including the Scenic Mountain RV Park.
Nearby you’ll find Mississippian earthen mounds built by the indigenous peoples who lived here for 13,000 years before white settlers arrived. The red clay earth contrasts with the bright white cherry blossoms in springtime—so many cherry blossoms that Japanese tourists have been known to come here to take in the show. And there is something about this place and landscape that has inspired a number of notable musicians, including the legendary Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, Little Richard, and R.E.M. drummer-cum-farmer Bill Berry.
Take in everything that the Fall Line has to offer from Scenic Mountain RV Park in Milledgeville, halfway between Macon and Augusta. You’ll have easy access to Bartram Forest, Lake Sinclaire, the Oconee River, and lots of Civil War and antebellum history. Milledgeville was also home to Flannery O’Conner, the famed godmother of the Southern gothic literary genre.
Scenic Mountain is a perfect homebase for exploring whatever aspects of history, culture, or the great outdoors brought you to Milledgeville. They have 60 sites with full hookups that can accommodate even the biggest rigs and toy-haulers, a dog run, dog wash station, a playground, and more. Perhaps the best feature on site, though, is the campground pool and unheated Jaccuzi where you can cool off from the sultry Georgia heat.
“This was a great little campground!! Not to mention clean!! They were updating the campground and adding more sites. Toffice has a few necessities–the staff was fabulous!” —The Dyrt camper Kelly W.
Usually Acadia National Park inspires visions of scoured beaches, windswept rocks, and rugged natural beauty—not exactly cozy campgrounds with pools. But you can get the best of both at Bass Harbor, a comfortable campground on the quiet southern tip of Mount Desert Island. You’re in walking distance of New England treats like the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and are removed from the comparative hustle and bustle further north at Bar Harbor.
From trekking up Cadillac Mountain—the highest point on the North Atlantic Seaboard— to sea kayaking, hiking the Ship Harbor Nature Trail, or exploring the tracks left behind by glaciers thousands of years ago, this is an exciting place to get outside.
Bass Harbor makes it easy to unwind after your adventures, with a free shuttle that runs to and from Acadia National Park, a heated campground pool, and convenience to the village itself, as well as a nearby lake. You’ll find tent and RV sites, WiFi, a laundromat, pet-friendly accommodations, and plenty of shade from the birch and spruce trees dotting the campground and Maine headlands.
“Tent campers have a much prettier space than RV, as with most campgrounds. We really liked it here. It has a pool, which my daughter loved, but I much preferred going down the road to the lake to swim. The owners were very accommodating.” —The Dyrt camper Melissa N.
A welcoming equestrian campground just off Virginia’s biggest body of water—the epic Buggs Island Lake—Staunton River State Park is not only one of the state’s few publicly-owned campgrounds with pools, but is also Virginia’s first designated International Dark Sky Park. There are ten multi-use trails weaving through the park open to mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, as well as a boat launch— although there aren’t any boat rentals, so you’ll want to bring your own watercraft. And last but certainly not least, Staunton River State Park is also home to the only disc golf course in the Virginia state park system.
When the days activities are done and your cooler is full of fish or your hamstrings have cried uncle, slide into the Olympic-size campground pool via The Moccasin, a 70-foot water slide, or the smaller log slide at the shallow end. There’s also a swimming area just for smaller children, the Pollywog Pond, which has its own slide, too. All of these water features are open for the summer season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and can be rented after-hours for special events.
“In nature but with a great pool! Large, flat and level spots were great. The pool here is amazing and it’s a designated star watching area and they even “rent“ (no charge!) telescopes from the very nice Visitor‘s Center!” —The Dyrt camper Carrie A.
At the far edge of Western North Carolina, Morrow Mountain is a lovely blend of the mountain culture you find in the thick of the Smoky Mountains and the mellow Piedmont of the central Carolinas. The park is home to the Yadkin-Pee Dee River, one of central North Carolina’s largest river systems, as well as Lake Tillery, a popular spot for boating. Perhaps the park’s most stunning feature, however, is a hidden one— the very Uwharrie Mountains on which Morrow Mountain State Park is perched.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, the Uwharrie Mountains were as tall as Denali and Mt St Elias, reaching close to 20,000 feet. They didn’t overlook the Piedmont plains, either, but instead loomed over the ocean at a time when the North Carolina coastline sat a good three hundred miles west of where it is today.
Since their heyday, however, the Uwharrie have eroded down to a humbler height, but they’re still dotted with history. From the old mines leftover from the first gold rush in the United States in the 1700s to the reconstructed Kron house, which celebrates a pioneer physician who worked in the area in the 1800s, there’s as much to learn about near Morrow Mountain as there are trails to tackle. There’s also all the modern comforts, too, like bathrooms and showers, not to mention that this is one of North..
The Catskill Mountains, located in southeastern New York state, are part of the northern portion of the Appalachian Mountains. Home to the towns of Phoenicia and Woodstock, the Catskills have been known through history as a haven for artists, musicians, and writers. But, even more than this, they are a remote, wild, oasis for backpackers, hikers, campers, and anyone else looking to escape city life for awhile.
Interested in primitive camping in the Catskills but not sure where to begin? The Catskills, after all, encompass a huge area, 700,000 acres are within the Catskill Forest Preserve alone. Keep reading for our complete (or as complete as we can manage in one article) guide to primitive camping in the Catskills.
Your Guide to Primitive Camping in the Catskills
First, what does primitive camping mean? Most of the time, it means hiking, walking or boating into in a remote area without amenities like running water, electricity, picnic tables, or restrooms, and setting up camp on non-designated campsites. And it almost always means that you have to carry all your gear by backpack or canoe.
With its extensive trail system, the Catskill Forest Reserve has tons of opportunities for primitive camping. There are designated primitive sites marked with yellow and black “camp here” signs. These sites tend to be situated near trails and a water source such as a lake, pond, stream, or river. They are also flatter than other areas with deeper, harder soil which helps to alleviate the impact camping has on the environment (no matter how careful and respectful a camper is).
Primitive camping in the Catskills is allowed most anywhere as long as the rules, set up by the Department for Environmental Conservation (DEC), are followed. The most important rule is that all primitive campsites must be at least 150 feet from water, road, or trail. If you’re planning on camping for more than three nights in one spot, you’ll need a special permit (available online from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation). Also, tents are not allowed inside lean-tos and, if there is space within a lean-to, you must share it with anyone who arrives after you. The DEC does encourage people to use the designated sites and some areas do require all camping to be at a designated site so its best to do some research beforehand. Some primitive sites are more accessible than others.
Non-Designated Primitive Camping in the Catskills
Most of the non-designated primitive camping in the Catskills involve some climbing and general uphill hiking. Unlike the trails in the National Parks System which are kept to a 10% maximum grade, the trails in the Catskills are steep and rocky, sometimes reaching grades as high as 45 percent. Which is, of course, all part of the fun and reward of hiking and spending the night in the wilderness.
Lean-tos and campgrounds are all marked on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation camping map, as are the trails leading to them. This map is essential for planning a multi-day hike and figuring out where to pitch a tent for the night. If you’re a planner and like to map out your trail and stops, here are some suggestions for where to pitch a tent for the night.
Within the Slide Mountain Wilderness Area, where the Long Path crosses the Neversink River, there are several primitive campsites available. The hike itself is predominantly flat and about a mile in from the parking access area.
Echo Lake, located within the Indian Head Wilderness Area, has remote campsites nearby. The sites, and the lake, are three to four miles in and the hike does involve climbing and traversing of a rocky, rugged landscape.
The southern Catskills include Vernooy Kill State Forest and the Vernooy Kill Waterfalls. There’s a designated camping area before the falls on the left side of the trail however, its in the middle of a field and very exposed to the wind.
There’s another campsite about a quarter of a mile upstream. To reach it, hikers should follow the path next to the stream until they get above one of the small waterfalls with a pool below.
Beyond the two campsites mentioned above, there are numerous other primitive camping sites scattered across the Balsam Lake Mountain Forest.
On the northern end of the Escarpment Trail, hikers should find the Elm Ridge lean-to. There’s ample room behind the shelter to pitch a tent or two. There are other lean-tos on and/or approaching Mount Balsam; on the Belleayre, McKinley Hollow and Mine Hollow trails.
Designated Campgrounds With Primitive Camping in the Catskills
If you want to camp at a formal campground to ease yourself into the whole primitive camping thing, the following campgrounds do have primitive sites available. At these spots, you’ll have access to the same hiking, biking and wilderness exploring as you would when primitive camping at non-designated sites, just a little more comfortable.
Primitive camping is permitted throughout Balsam Lake State Forest, though all rules as defined by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation must be followed. Balsam Pond does have a rustic campground next to it with a fire ring, outhouse, and picnic table provided for each space.
There are also paddle/boat in spots available away from the campground. Sometimes a better option as not all campers seem to understand the rules of “Leave No Trace” at campground itself. There’s also a fairly new boat launch at the pond with a handicapped accessible fishing pier.
One of the oldest campgrounds in the Catskill Forest Preserve, Devil’s Tombstone is a primitive campground very near to many of the area’s highest peaks. This makes Devils’s Tombstone an excellent basecamp for serious hikers.
Trails from Devil’s Tombstone lead to Indian Head, and the Hunter-West Kill Range. The Devil’s Path Trail, marked with red trail markers, passes right through the day use area of the campground linking the aforementioned trail systems. There are 24 wooded tent and trailer sites and a small shallow lake bearing the name Notch Lake.
The name Devil’s Tombstone comes from a huge boulder, about seven feet by five feet, that sits within the campground. People tell stories that Stony Clove, the mountain pass that the campground is located in, was a favorite stomping ground of the Devil himself. The boulder most probably ended up in its current spot not by work of the Devil but rather, by a landslide or glacier centuries ago.
“A short drive to these rustic tent-only spots, dog friendly, nice rangers and great trees for hammocks!” —The Dyrt camper Becky G.
Though not an exclusively primitive campground, Bear Spring Mountain does have a primitive camping area about three and half miles from the main drag, called the Spruce Grove Area. Here, rustic camping lovers will find quiet, remote sites and access to the Spruce Grove Spur and the State Hill Trail, both of which connect to Bear Springs Wildlife Management Area trail system.
“Nothing but woods all around! Endless hiking and beautiful steams – you can drink straight from the pipes!” —The Dyrt camper Kimberly S.
Only a few designated tent sites are up at the Giant Ledge area, accessible via a trail from the Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain parking area.
A true primitive camping area in the Catskills, Giant Ledge does not have any toilets or other facilities. If you are lucky enough to score one of the campsites and, the area isn’t too crowded with autumn leaf-looking hikers, you’ll be treated to a wonderful true rustic camping experience. And don’t forget, bears live here too!
“Bring a bear bell and bear mace can to be safe. We did not see any but definite signs of them. Get trekking poles if you don’t already have some. Very helpful here.” —The Dyrt camper Tina D.
What to Do on a Primitive Camping Trip in the Catskills
While plenty of your fun (and energy) will be spent finding and setting up your campsite, adventure seekers with time on their hands can find world-class biking and hiking during a Catskills primitive camping trip. Here are some of our suggestions.
Ride Mountain Bike Trails Through the Hilly Upstate NY
The Catskill Forest Preserve has over 30 designated mountain biking trails spread out across five different sub regions: Bluestone, Elm Ridge, Indian Head, Kaaterskill, and Overlook Mountain. The trails range from beginner to expert, and provide stunning views from the various peaks in the Catskills.
Some of the more popular rides include the 14.1 miles of single-track trails (meaning one-way routes that are most often no wider than a bike tire) that make up the Elm Ridge Loop the Cortina Valley to Palenville Trail within the Kaatarskill Wild Forest, a 10.9 mile-long single-track trail.
Ascend Alpine Hikes in the Appalachian Mountains
Over 30 hikes that ascend above 3,500 feet can be traversed within the Catskills Forest Preserve, ranging from easy to very difficult and everything in between.
One easy to moderate hike is the Hunter Mountain Loop, 8.16 miles from the DEC parking lot on Route 6. The trail reaches 4,046 feet at its highest point. There’s a fire tower too, with excellent views. The Sugarloaf Mountain hike, a total of 6.69 round trip miles from the DEC parking lot on Dale Lane, is one of the more difficult and, arguably, dangerous trails in the preserve. The biggest danger is simply falling off the mountain; the trail is extremely steep in some areas! If you are able to complete it, you’ll earn yourself some legit bragging rights as it is part of the Devil’s Path.
Vermont’s verdant, vibrant summers are a welcome shift in temperature, landscape, and color from its long and frigid winter season. For so much foliage to grow in such a short time frame, annual precipitation averages around three feet per year.
In the warm summer days, rivers and lakes are often filled with swimmers, kayakers, and water lovers of all sorts. While there is a certain tameness to these beloved pastimes, the real fun lies in a trek to one of many hidden waterfalls in Vermont, where swimming is unrivaled, incredibly refreshing, and often daring.
A Tour of 5 Vermont Waterfalls With Camping Nearby
Many of these waterfalls lie within state forests or parks, and all are near truly fantastic camping options.
1. Bingham Falls—Mount Mansfield State Forest
Located in the Mount Mansfield State Forest, Bingham Falls is a secluded 25-ft plunging waterfall that pummels through narrow gorge walls before emptying into a wide emerald pool. Although it can be dangerous to do so when water levels are high, swimming here is spectacular. Nearby trails make this a popular spot for a post-hike dip, and the boulders that encircle the falls and pool make it a fun spot for a daring jump.
The trailhead for the hike to Bingham Falls lies north of Stowe, VT about 12 minutes on Mountain Road. The trek to Bingham Falls is relatively easy, with the total hike a little over a half of a mile round trip. Bingham Falls can be popular on a hot summer weekend, so if you’d prefer less of a crowd, aim for a weekday visit.
“There was not a bad site within the entire vicinity. All were fully shaded and extremely private. Bathrooms were clean and the main office sold firewood at the entrance. Facilities are also pet friendly. Plus, there are so many hiking trails and recreational opportunities in and around the Park-from Stowe Mountain Resort to the quaint shops in town and local craft breweries.” —The Dyrt camper Rachel P.
2. Texas Falls & Moss Glen Falls—Green Mountain National Forest
We’re giving you a two-for-one here, as these two waterfalls are so close to each other, don’t require a hike, and are both equally worth a visit.
Texas Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Vermont, adorning postcards, tourist sites, and hiking guides. Although swimming is no longer allowed here due to injuries, this punchbowl falls has a 35 ft total drop, with plunges that flow between a deep ravine. With the spring snow melt, this creates a roaring waterfall that is a quite a site.
Moss Glen Falls of Granville (there are two waterfalls in Vermont with the name “Moss Glen Falls”) also has a total drop of 35 ft, before widening out and gathering into a wide, shallow pool. Moss Glen Falls is visible from the road, and has a wheelchair accessible boardwalk to the falls itself, making it a wonderful stop on a very scenic Vermont byway, Route 100. Close to hikes and other area swimming holes, combining Moss Glen Falls and Texas Falls into one trip is ideal.
“Such a beautiful place to stay! We stayed in a wooded area surrounded by large rocks my daughter could climb on. The beach was nearby and included in the stay with horseshoes and a playground. There was hiking nearby, but with the rain we weren’t able to go. Can’t wait to go back again!” —The Dyrt camper Desiree V.
3. Bolton Potholes—near Bolton, VT
A local favorite, the “potholes” are a fabulous place to spend a summer day with the whole family. There are five total waterfalls along this hike outside Bolton, VT, each forming the titular potholes and swimming holes that hikers can relax and cool off in. The Bolton Potholes feature the gorgeous emerald river water that Vermont swimming holes are known and loved for. At the base of the falls there is a shallow, sandy area that’s perfect for young kids to splash and swim.
The trailhead for the hike to the Bolton Potholes begins on the Bolton Valley Access Road, a few miles south of the Bolton Valley Ski Resort. one must walk a short distance on the Bolton Valley Access Road.
“Little River State Park is located just outside of Waterbury Vermont so it’s an ideal location for jumping off on other adventures! There are so many great stores and restaurants nearby if you want something else do to! The park is on the shoreline of Waterbury reservoir so there is boating (rentals available) and plenty of fishing. There is also a lot of hiking!” —The Dyrt camper Danielle S.
4. Hamilton Falls—Jamaica State Park
Hamilton Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Vermont, at 125 jaw-dropping feet. During low precipitation years, Hamilton Falls is a mild, but still beautiful, waterfall. But in a wet year, this waterfall plunges and cascades through deeply cut gorge walls. At its base, there is a popular wading pool for swimming; at its top, there are pools, but swimming is prohibited, as at least a dozen people have lost their life here.
Hamilton Falls is accessible from Jamaica State Park, where there is a trailhead within the park that leads directly to the falls. This makes it a fantastic option for camping.
“Very beautiful campground with a few great hikes. We had the whole campground to ourselves during the week. Camped right on the river on one of their lean to sites. A little pricey but worth it. Large sites. Cleanest campground I’ve been in. Everyone was so kind and helpful.” —The Dyrt camper Summer S.
5. Warren Falls—near Roxbury State Forest
Warren Falls is a wildly popular swimming hole—and for good reason. Located on the Mad River, Warren Falls is one of many equally fantastic swimming spots only a local would know about (you’ll have to ask). Warren Falls perhaps steals the show of all the waterfalls in Vermont. There are striking gorge walls that outline the entirety of the falls, lending a perfect spot to soak up the sunshine after a shockingly cold swim.
Cliff-jumping is a favored pastime at Warren Falls, and luckily, it’s entirely safe to do so.
“The camping and parking area wedged between the Mad River and Vermont Route 100. Grassy and Rocky sites, 4 fire rings, 3 porta-potties, and stream side (river) camping close to trails, Warren Falls swimming hole, the Lincoln Gap Road and hiking, and the “famous” Warren General Store, and covered bridge.” —The Dyrt camper Michelle R.
This article on vertical camping is brought to you by Morsel, whose camping spork is made of durable rubber and silicon, and features a spoon, fork, and a spatula.
With the rise in popularity of recent climbing documentaries like Free Solo and The Dawn Wall, the prospect of big wall climbing has drawn the attention of adrenaline junkies and climbing newbies alike. While Alex Honnold makes it look a bit too easy (we’d recommend most people use ropes), the realities of big wall climbing involve a number of high-altitude tricks and maneuvers that the average outdoorsperson likely hasn’t even conceived. Things like carrying your supplies and storing your food are immensely more complicated on the side of a cliff, not to mention disposing of waste, using the bathroom, and, for multi-day climbs, vertical camping.
What is Vertical Camping?
When most people think of camping, something akin to Yosemite Valley’s Upper Pines Campground probably comes to mind. There are paved roads, pull-in sites, sites with electricity, and sites in close proximity to a bathroom with showers, or, at the very least, a pit toilet. The sites are close together but not too close, and most sites offer enough coverage to feel like you’re secluded without being alone. Given the fact that the Upper Pines campground is booked solid almost year-round, it’s no secret that this is a style of camping people enjoy, probably because car camping tends to combine some of the comforts of home (good food, pillows(!), larger tents) with the rustic amenities of a campground and the beauty of nature.
It makes sense, then, that the average car camper might not consider hanging on the side of a 3000-foot wall. Yet, look up at the sheer granite face of El Capitan on any given night from the valley floor, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see a few headlamps bobbing around on the vertical surface. Look closer, and you might notice a ledge attached to the wall, with seemingly few fastening points. So, what’s the deal? Do climbers enjoy vertical camping, or is it something they have to do because the climb is too long or strenuous to complete in a manageable time period? And how does it work?
Whether you’re in need of some advice before attempting your first multi-day climbing routine (which we’d recommend you do with an experienced partner) or you’re just a curious car camper looking for answers, we’ve outlined the basic ins and outs of vertical camping, from the gear to the physical principles that allow humans to camp thousands of feet in the air with only a few bylines to boot.
No, Vertical Camping Is Not Really a Hobby
To be frank, if anyone claims that their favorite hobby is vertical camping, you might want to reconsider your weekend plans with them. As far as camping styles go, vertical camping does differ from car camping and backpacking insofar as it’s not really something you just do. Instead, it’s done because it’s needed by climbers working on lengthy routes, whether they’re setting them for the first time or just trying to finish the darn thing.
Yes, Vertical Camping Gear Is Super Safe
Perhaps the scariest thing about vertical camping is the gear. Just like with traditional rope climbing, the trust you place in your gear while vertical is extreme, and when you’re laying on a portaledge (portable camping ledge) over 2000 feet in the air, you’re probably not going to want to have doubts in the ledge you’ve chosen for your multi-day climbing expedition. For the most part, the gear you bring on a multi-day climbing expedition and the gear you’d bring on a single pitch climb don’t differ all that much, with a few major exceptions:
Obviously, no one’s bringing a tooth brush with them on a day trip, but for a multi-day or multi-week climb, the little things make a big difference. Food and water for vertical camping are similar to backpacking provisions, with the extra caveat that there’s likely no way of getting to extra supplies during your climb. That said, planning your meals and caloric intake is extremely important when climbing, and can be the difference in your climb being a successful experience or a miserable one. Typically, climbers should be replenishing their bodies with 50 to 100 grams of carbs every 60 to 75 minutes to prevent muscle breakdown. As far as food selection goes, multi-day climbers often opt for fairly traditional foods to replenish themselves (bars, chocolate, trail mix, sandwiches) while avoiding excessively heavy foods.
The main piece of gear, the portaledge, is basically the vertical camping version of a tent, with the added caveat that it hands suspended in mid-air instead of being staked into the ground. Typically, portaledges are in the 10-13 pound range, and are secured by a single point of tension. Compared to the hammocks first used in the 1950s and ‘60s, portaledges have come a long way in terms of safety, comfort, and packability. Although portaledges are simple, in theory, to set up, setting them up while suspended in the air is a different matter entirely. It’s important to construct your portaledge at home before you start your climb, so that you know exactly what to do once you’re on the wall.
As far as safety goes, most portaledges are built with airline-grade metals and parts, and are constructed to operate efficiently from their center point of tension. While the safety rating on portaledges is extremely high, all climbers should remain harnessed to the primary anchor, even while resting in the portaledge.
No, You Can’t Roll Off a Portaledge
Ever looked up a portaledge and thought of the time you fell off your bunk bed? Considering sleeping 2000 feet up the side of a wall is one thing, but the prospect of sleeping with someone else next to you, potentially a kicker or a sleep shifter is entirely another. That said, the safety geniuses in charge of constructing portaledges are the same ones who recommended that climbers using them still be harnessed up and attached to the wall via a primary anchor. Not going to say it wouldn’t be a dire situation if a portaledge failed, but having a backup system helps climbers (and anxious viewers) to sleep soundly knowing that it’s virtually impossible to sleep walk your way off of a portaledge.
Yes, Using the Bathroom While Vertical Camping is Complicated (But Possible)
Okay, so you might not roll off, but what about the bathroom? Unless we’re missing something, we don’t see any porta-potties being hauled up on multi-day climbing trips. It’s true, maybe the hardest thing about the vertical camping experience is managing your biological processes. While it may be close to impossible to imagine being able to safely and cleanly go #1 or #2 thousands of feet in the air, it’s been done, and with much success.
General principles for going to the bathroom while vertical camping are the same as backpacking in high-trafficked areas: pack it out! Especially on a wall like El Cap, taking your #2 with you is critical to maintaining the safety and cleanliness of the wall. While the mechanics of pooping from a portaledge vary (we’ll let you figure out what’s best for you), most vertical campers use a wag bag or a paper bag that they then store in an airtight or otherwise sealed container. Some climbers use five gallon buckets, some use waterproof, sealed gear bags. Most use a “poop tube,” or basically a piece of PVC pipe with lids on both ends. It tends to be the easiest to hang on your gear bag, and the safest solution when it comes to lugging it along with you. At the end of the day, what you use is up to you!
General guidelines for peeing while vertical camping depend on how high you are and how many climbing parties are below you. Baseline advice for both males and females, though, suggests that vertical campers either pee out from the portaledge and wall as far as possible (so that the pee turns mostly into vapor before it hits the ground), or use a bottle in the middle of the night (just make sure you don’t mix it up with your water bottle!).
Many female climbers opt to use a device that makes it easier to pee standing up like The Tinkle Bell, or an outdoor-friendly cloth like the Peedana (sold at several outdoor retailers across the country). At the end of the day, figuring out what works best for you is most important, and can depend on weather, experience, and the placement of your portaledge.
Some vertical camping parties carry extra plastic containers (and duct tape!) that they pack out or dump out in an area with some vegetation. All that said, a few things to keep in mind: never unharness to use the bathroom while vertical camping, and try not to pee directly over the route you’re working on. Oh, and never pee (or poop, for that matter) into a crack in the rock, as the sun / rain won’t wash it out, and it could provide an unpleasant surprise for a climber coming up the route behind you.
No, Vertical Camping Is Not As Terrifying As It Looks
So maybe hanging suspended by a portaledge in the middle of a 3,000 foot rock-face seems like an acrophobic’s nightmare, but it’s not as terrifying as it looks. Okay, maybe it is for the average person, but for experienced climbers, it can actually be quite relaxing. Since the tread and grind of a multi-day climb is so exhausting, many climbers report actually loving the experience of vertical camping, both for the feeling of being secluded high up on a wall and for the spectacular views of the night sky and scenery in the surrounding area. Not to mention the good night’s sleep that often awaits climbers after a day spent on the wall!
Should You Try It? Maybe.
You’ll need to be a very experienced climber, first. And then you’ll need to buy or rent the appropriate equipment. But if you’re looking for a unique and breathtaking vantage point from your tent door, you really can’t beat vertical camping.
This article was brought to you by Morsel
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I don’t mean to brag, but our nation’s national parks are truly the best. In 2018, the parks saw over 315 million visits. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly equal to the number of active users on Twitter in the whole world. With that kind of volume, you know the odds are that some of those visitors will, inevitably, break national park rules.
Most people mean well. They’re curious, trying to have a good time, or capturing content for their Instagram followers. Despite those (mostly) benign intentions, every year at least a handful of people are arrested, injured, or killed because of bad behavior. And they aren’t the only victims—the environment, animals, and park infrastructure often take the biggest hit.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. If everyone follows a basic guidelines like Leave No Trace, plus a few essential rules for staying on your best behavior in national parks, you can leave these places better than you found them, and stay safe and avoid national park rules at the same time.
10 National Park Rules We Should All Follow
Image from Joshua Tree National Park
Here’s your blueprint for following national park rules and being an upstanding guest in Mother Nature’s habitat. If we can all be good models, we can cut down on the kind of undue wear and tear caused during the government shutdown—which ranged from an over-accumulation of trash to purposeful vandalism of Joshua trees. That saves money and volunteer hours spent on things like national park restoration, not to mention search and rescue efforts necessitated by falls and other accidents in national parks.
1. Never Approach Wildlife
Image from The Dyrt camper Celina M.
They can be hard to resist, with their fluffy ears and big doe eyes. But underneath that cute appearance, wild animals are very, very dangerous. A grizzly bear can crush a bowling ball in its adorable maw. That dopey bison can run up to 40 mph. Cougars can jump over 20 feet, and even mountain lion kittens will stalk grown adults. With the importance of protecting these animals (and yourself), this is one of the most important national park rules
When we visit national parks, we’re in these wild creatures’ home. You probably wouldn’t like if several thousand people busted into your house demanding a selfie, and the animals don’t always appreciate it, either. As visitors, we should tread respectfully. You can appreciate the wildlife without invading their space and risking injury. In 2015 alone, five people were gored by bison in Yellowstone.
The real problem with approach wildlife, however, isn’t that they’ll hurt you. While it’s always good to protect your personal safety in national parks, your chance of dying in one is about 1 in 2 million— you have a better chance of becoming a movie star. Instead, the concern is that you will hurt the wild creates you’re so curious about. National park visitors should avoid habituating animals to humans.
Animals need to survive on their own in the wilderness. If they become reliant on humans, they get sick and die when visitation thins. Animals that are too comfortable around humans can also start to engage in behaviors that may result in euthanasia. There’s a reason for the phrase “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
Following national park rules means you should be at a distance of 300 ft from bears and wolves, and 75 ft from other wildlife. How far is that? Stick out your hitchhiking ticket (er, thumb). If your thumb conceals the animal, you’re fine. If you see others getting too close to wildlife, tell a Ranger (or politely say something if a Ranger isn’t nearby). You could save a life! If you want to see animals up close and personal, simply head to your local zoo.
2. Never Ignore Signs
Perhaps the park that sees visitors break national park rules like this most often is Yellowstone; they could post a sign every five inches and people would still find a way to immerse their hands, feet, elbows, or entire bodies into the hot springs’ Thermophilic Bacteria, not to mention garbage, lucky coins, and souvenirs. It’s not risk losing a limb, your life, or clogging up a rare geologic wonder for good.
Signs reminding you not to fling yourself or personal possessions into geysers and other bodies of water aren’t the only ones you need to pay attention to. Our nation’s national parks have some of the most dangerous roads in the U.S., twisting through remote, technical terrain. Road signs are extra critical along these routes, especially when you have as much cellphone reception as a 19th century pioneer. Keep your eyes on the road, pay attention to signage, and bring along a paper map just in case.
A lot of signs are in place to remind you of basic safety rules and how to Leave No Trace. Don’t step on plant restoration, go off-trail, or camp outside designated areas, for example. Stay out of slot canyons, washes, and arroyos during a rainstorm. Keep pets off trails and out of campgrounds that prohibit them. Don’t leave your food out. Don’t fling yourself into boiling hot springs. Refrain from flying a drone, or climbing a barrier, and leaning over a 300-foot cliff, no matter how good the pictures you get might be. And if someone has paid good money for a sign, heed what it says.
3. Never Feed the Critters
Image from The Dyrt camper Michael K.
I know, Cheetos are delicious. And when you love something, you want to share it. But that chipmunk can’t digest Cheetos like you can. When you give them delicious foods like Cheetos, it harms them and breaks national park rules. They can become aggressive, stop searching for food, and develop health conditions from an abnormal diet, or become reliant on humans, all of which can lead to accidents (for them or humans), then death.
Wanting to be friends with critters is admirable, and it’s tough to know the harm that can come from friendship. But it’s best to give the wildlife a wide berth so they can keep being their wild selves. Always carry a bear canister or make use of provided food storage lockers to help deter animals from approaching you, too.
4. Never Disrespect Your Neighbors
Love thy neighbor, even in the outdoors. Visitors might be unaware that disturbing fellow campers/visitors is taken as seriously as other national park rules in parks across the U.S. Skip the speakers, pop those headphones in, and headbang your way to victory.
Camping in close quarters can be tricky, which is why some national park campgrounds have quiet hours, alcohol bans, and other regulations. So do your neighbors a favor and turn down your favorite camping playlist and relax in front of the fire. Exhausted thru-hikers and eager dawn patrol acolytes will thank you for the chance to fall asleep to the sounds of bullfrogs and crickets, not a rehash of your most recent music festival lineup or dive bar exploits.
Most importantly, the park rangers deserve our admiration. Their jobs aren’t easy, and sometimes they have to do things they don’t like. They work hard in tough conditions for low wages. So even if they’re harshing your mellow, they deserve all the appreciation in the world.
For centuries humans have been leaving their mark on rock faces, cave walls, and tree trunks. Sometimes those pictograms are an exciting feature worth long, dusty hikes to see for yourself, like the ancient hand prints and drawings at Chaco Canyon or the San Rafael Swell. Others started out as graffiti, but have since become an integral part of, say, the Oregon Caves National Monument that’s still evolving naturally.
Just because your predecessors left their mark, however, does not mean you get to, too. It takes a long time for artifacts to recover from desecration, if ever. Sometimes graffiti can be removed, but techniques like sandblasting and chemical stripping causes further damage to the environment, too. It’s best to leave well enough alone.
Defacement isn’t exclusive to carving names into rocks or spray painting prom-posals, either. Knocking over delicate rock formations wreaks havoc on geologic features that took Mother Nature millions of years to create. So does building campfires too close to rock faces— no, those scorch marks won’t just wash away during the next rain storm.
As much damage as social media can cause to the great outdoors (hence the debate over whether geotags are a good idea), these platforms can also be an excellent tool for catching vandals. If you see someone defacing nature, tell them to stop and report them to a Ranger. When that doesn’t work, take a photo or video and blast them all on social media. It works. Just ask the folks behind campaigns like Public Lands Hate You and You Did Not Sleep There, not to mention influencers using their platform for good like Brianna Madia.
6. Never Come Unprepared
National parks are regulated and mapped, but they still have large areas of undeveloped wilderness—that’s part of the point, after all. That’s why it’s important to always be prepared, or even a little over prepared. Bring ample food and water, plus backups— a few more energy bars than you need, for example, an extra water filter, or purification tablets if you’re traveling light.
Know what to do if the weather changes or your trip becomes longer than expected. Wear the proper shoes and apparel— save the stilettos for date night and remember that cotton kills. Always bring several layers, even if it’s slated to be a sunny, warm day. Pack a first-aid and survival kit and learn wilderness first aid skills. Carry a map and compass, even if you have a GPS device, and take an orienteering class to learn your way around sans-Siri. Bonus points if you learn survival skills like knowing what cloud formations can tell you about changing weather patterns and tricks to tell time without a clock.
Search and Rescue (SAR) is a great resource available to save visitors in need, but should be the last option. In 2017 alone, SAR cost the taxpayer almost $3 million, and experienced difficulties in finances and support during the government shutdown. That said, preparation is key to not only avoiding disaster, but also knowing when an emergency warrants alerting the authorities. If you’re traveling solo or into remote areas, it’s always a good idea to carry a personal locater beacon just in case.
7. Never Remove Anything
Image from The Dyrt camper Kelsey M.
Taking something from a national park can seem innocent; a nice rock, a pretty feather, or an unusual flower. Some visitors are more ambitious—taking things like fossils, civil war relics, or ancient artifacts. A few might do something especially egregious, like taking wildlife out of its natural habitat. Stealing anything from parks is a federal crime and a violation of Leave No Trace. Instead, leave only footprints, take only photos and memories.
Ecosystems are complex and delicate, so it’s important to leave things as they are. Not only that, removing bones, artifacts, rocks, or other items can also be a matter of cultural appropriation and disrespect to indigenous peoples who’s ties to the land predate the national parks system. If you’re unsure of the national park rules for certain activities, e.g., picking berries or foraging for mushrooms, ask a Ranger, or refer to the rules on that park’s website.
8. Never Leave Anything
Realistically, camping in a way that’s truly zero impact can be difficult. But we should all aim to Leave No Trace. Don’t leave ruts or foot prints off trail, tent/hammock impressions, or trample delicate plant species. Don’t leave toilet paper or feces anywhere that’s not a covered hole or toilet. Don’t leave vomit and dirty underwear strewn about, as two hikers did in a “drunken rampage” that killed off members of a rare fish species.
As many of us witnessed in the media, this is one of the many national park rules that went ignored when the NPS was shut down. Don’t leave gear, trash, recyclables, or food in your camping area, fire pit, or hiking trails. Did you know it takes a banana peel a month to decompose? An orange peel takes six months. It just goes to show, even seemingly “natural” waste can quickly pile up and negatively impact ecosystems in the process.
Do bring a trash bag to pack out your waste and any litter you encounter. Practice proper bathroom etiquette if you’re in the backcountry— yes, even though it feels gross to hike out a wag bag, used toilet paper, or a two-day-old tampon. And, of course, drink responsibly. Your body and the earth will thank you, and you’ll be safer if a wilderness emergency arises— or reduce your chances of causing one. We all thank you in advance for leaving Mother Nature better than you found her.
After accidentally starting a wildfire, country legend Johnny Cash famously told a judge, “my truck did it, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” He’s not the only one to suddenly find himself on the hook for a backcountry conflagration. People have been setting wildfires for years, sometimes by accident, and sometimes not. About 90% of forest fires in the U.S. are human-caused, and the results are devastating.
Campers can help prevent forest fires by following burn bans, leaving cigarettes of any sort at home, using a fire ring, and completely extinguishing fires. You can also mitigate common wildfire causes by avoiding campfires in favor of camping stoves, following proper gun safety protocols, and installing spark arrestors on motor vehicles.
10. Never Think You’re Exempt
Most of us do things that seem innocent but can break national park rules. It’s important to remember that none of us, no matter how well-meaning, are exempt from the national park rules. Here are a few examples of things people do that seem okay on the surface but be harmful:
Painting memorial rocks for the departed. Paint is often toxic to the environment and can harm animals if ingested.
Rock stacking. Crustaceans, nymphs, micro-organisms, fish eggs, and aquatic plants rely on those rocks to survive. Moving them disrupts the ecosystem. Rock stacks can also be mistaken for cairns, a very purposeful form of trailblazing. Even if your kids built the cutest pebble palace on the planet while taking a break, it could be confusing to hikers trying to find their way.
Letting your dog wander off leash. There are all kinds of trail dangers for dogs that can be lessened or eliminated by staying on-leash. You won’t have to worry..
Cathedral Gorge State Park sneaks up on you. Driving past the turn-off, you wouldn’t give it a second glance; it might just be stretch of sparse desert in southeastern Nevada. But as you near the entrance to this small but mighty state park, bizarre monoliths perforate your view—a reminder that this is no ordinary desert.
Over millions of years, the state park’s iconic architecture was formed from elements eroding the bentonite clay left over from volcanic activity in the Pliocene Era. What’s left is a labyrinth of canyons and caves, unlike anything you’ve experienced—owing to Cathedral Gorge State Park’s founding as one of the four original Nevada state parks. Winding your way through the narrows brings a sense of wonder you won’t find anywhere else in the desert.
Explore Nevada’s Natural Architecture at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Image from The Dyrt camper Nicole A.
Cathedral Gorge Campground is a comfortable place to stay while exploring, and you will want to explore this park. The Dyrt camper Will M. sums it up by saying, “the geography is unlike any he has seen.”
The campground is quiet, with 22 first-come, first-served campsites and two group sites. The Dyrt camper Tara S. says it’s “a little oasis in the desert, with just a few sites situated among small trees and scrubby plants.”
The camping fee is $15/night, plus $10/night for utility hookups. That includes a covered table and fire grill, along with access to flush toilets, showers, and water spigots. For another $10 you can get 1GB of WiFi.
5 Things Campers Should Know About Cathedral Gorge State Park
Before hitting the highway to discover this state park, check out these tips to get you prepared for the excursion. As with every delicate environment you can visit, be sure to always practice Leave No Trace policies on trails and at campgrounds.
1. You’ll Want to Spend Hours in the Slot Canyons
Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.
The best thing about Cathedral Gorge State Park is the ‘caves’ area on the east side of the gorge. There are miles of slot canyons, split into three sections: Cathedral Caves, Canyon Caves, and Moon Caves. Some are narrow enough for a single person without a pack, which is why they resemble caves. They seem to go on forever, with no rhyme or reason. Squeeze, crawl, climb, and shimmy your way through cathedral spires and washes, and you may happen upon secret tunnels and chambers that you swear nobody has seen. The shade of the narrows is a welcome respite from the summer heat, and the quiet environment is the perfect place to collect your thoughts.
2. The Wildlife Are Friendly and Might Approach You
Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.
Many native species call Cathedral Gorge home. You might see some harmless desert species like lizards and non-venomous snakes. Keep an eye out for the Great Basin rattlesnake; you’ll know it by the familiar rattling or dark brown patches. You may see jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits hopping around, or smaller critters like gophers, packrats, and mice. Sometimes, kit foxes and deer roam the area. If an animal approaches you, calmly walk away.
3. There Are Plenty of Great Photo Opportunities
Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.
The caves are a great place to take distinctive photos. The interior of the caves provides excellent shapes, angles, and shadows that allow you to stretch your creativity. The exteriors are incomparable, making a spectacular backdrop for panoramas. There’s also an old stone water tower left by the Civilian Conservation Corps that can be a unique prop. The sunrise and sunsets bring soft colors that mesh with the desert landscape. For more panoramic photo options, visit Miller Point Overlook and Eagle Point Overlook.
4. The Summers Are Hot, and Winters Are Cold
Image from The Dyrt camper Lucy L.
Like most arid deserts, the summers can get hot at Cathedral Gorge State Park—most summer afternoons reach the mid-nineties. You can evade the sun by sneaking into the caves or resting under the campground‘s shade shelters. Make sure you have enough water when hiking; as a general rule of thumb, carry one liter of water per hour of hiking. The winter nights can fall below freezing, so tent campers should come prepared with layers, a 4-season tent, or a sleeping bag rated to zero (or below).
As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a waterfall snob. Where I’m from, you can barely hike a mile without drowning in a spectacular waterfall. When I moved to the desert, the last thing I expected to see was a waterfall that impresses me. Alas, there’s not one, but several waterfalls in Utah that have humbled my evergreen soul.
The 5 Best Waterfalls in Utah and Where to Camp Nearby
Image from The Dyrt camper Sam M.
From the deserts to the mountains, waterfalls in Utah are spread across the state—sometimes in the most unexpected places. No matter where you find them, you’re sure to find excellent camping nearby as well, so you can turn these day hikes into your next favorite overnight trip.
Before heading out to these waterfalls in Utah, be sure to learn about the policies of Leave No Trace. These waterfalls, like many natural wonders in Utah, are delicate and require visitors to practice LNT policies to best minimize the impact dealt to the areas around these waterfalls.
1. Lower Calf Creek Falls—Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The hike to the Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 5.5-mile hike through an impressive canyon outside of Boulder. The trickle of calf creek and shade from the cottonwoods make the trek pleasant. Marks left by the natives streak the canyon walls. The 126-foot waterfall is remarkably beautiful. The water cascades against a backdrop of green, yellow, and orange algae, and into a pool of clear blue. And the cottonwood trees surrounding the falls offer shade for a family picnic.
The Calf Creek campground has 13 first-come, first-served campsites with access to the trailhead for the Lower Calf Creek Falls. The campground fills up by the afternoon on summer weekends, so be sure to start your day early. Campsites are available year-round for $15/night. Most sites are tent-sized, so RVers might want to look for a spot at the nearby Canyons of Escalante RV Park. The Calf Creek campground fee includes access to a toilet, picnic table, and grill.
“Love this campground! Better get there early but once your in, plan an extra day! Trailhead is incredible! Pack it in, pack it out but clean flushable toilet at entrance and clean vault toilets at throughout. The creek itself was a nice place to soak the feet after the hike to the beautiful Lower Calf Creek Falls. Very clean and quiet!” — The Dyrt camper Marlin B.
2. Stewart Falls—near Sundance, Utah
Stewart Falls is in close proximity to the famed Sundance Resort—home to a portion of the Sundance Film Festival, and a charming urban center with some of Utah’s best landscapes around it. The 3.5-mile hike to Stewart Falls is easy, making it great for families. The 200-foot waterfall is best viewed in the morning. It cascades in two ribbons, meeting again for the lower tier. The hike is lovely in the autumn when the aspen groves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Be sure to sneak behind the falls to get a different perspective.
The Mount Timpanogos campground is where most visitors like to stay when visiting these falls. There are aspen and maples throughout, and 360-degree views of Mt. Timpanogos. Fall brings vibrant foliage and spring and summer provides droves of wildflowers. There are 27 spacious and relaxing sites available; some are first come, first served, some are reservable online. Campers have access to picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and water.
“This is a must-see spot. This area, really all of American Fork Canyon is among the prettiest places in Utah Valley. Go! Camp! Hike Timp!”—The Dyrt camper Brendan A.
3. Kanarraville Falls—near Zion National Park
Image from The Dyrt camper Alexis P.
Kanarraville Falls can be reached through a 5-mile hike over three waterfalls in Kanarra Creek Canyon. Hikers pass by the first 15-foot waterfall, and climb it using a ladder on the side. The second, smaller waterfall can be scaled by scrambling over a large boulder. Finally, you’ll pass the third waterfall using either a ladder or wooden log(s). The rare combination of slot canyon and waterfalls make these falls highly photogenic. A note before heading out—this hike is mostly through water, so come prepared with waterproof shoes or waders for the hike. Visitors are required to get a $9 permit from the Kanarraville Falls website before entering the canyon.
The Red Ledge RV Park and campground is just a short mile away from Kanarraville Falls, and The 22 reservable sites are $30 per night; a bargain for the comfort and scenery surrounding you. The fee includes access to water, a propane grill, a playground, showers, 24-hour laundry, a hot tub, and wifi. And for a $5 upgrade, you can stay in a swanky mini-cabin.
“Red Ledge RV Park is perfectly located between Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. And, Cedar Breaks is just a few miles away. This is a quiet, beautiful, clean, and friendly campground. So there, my secrets out!” —The Dyrt camper Keith W.
4. Doughnut Falls—near Salt Lake City, Utah
Doughnut Falls isn’t one of the most grandiose waterfalls in Utah but it will leave a mark in your memory. The easy 3.5-mile hike is outside Salt Lake City, in the Wasatch mountains. Expect to get wet, you’ll be scrambling up the runoff to see the “doughnut” part of the falls. At the top, you climb into a small cave, where the water cascades through a ring-shaped hole (get it?) and out the bottom. If you’re lucky, you’ll be the only one in there. For that to happen, avoid the busy summer weekends. These falls are also scenic in the winter, when the water freezes as it flows through the hole.
The Spruces campground is right next to the Doughnut Falls trail, featuring are 81 campsites, with a number reservable online, and the rest available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you can’t reserve, try to visit on a Thursday to snag a walk-up site. Campers have access to picnic tables, grills, flush toilets, water, a baseball field, a volleyball court, and horseshoe pits.
“This campground is gorgeous! for $26 a night, you cannot beat it. There are nice flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, large areas for putting up tents, etc. There is an entire loop of the campground dedicated to trailers and RVs. It is deep in Big Cottonwood Canyon in a very forested area with a beautiful little creek running right through the center of the campground.” —The Dyrt camper Jason H.
5. Bridal Veil Falls—near Provo, Utah
At 607 vertical feet, Bridal Veil Falls is thought to be the tallest of the Utah waterfalls. It’s ranked as one of America’s top 100 waterfalls. Nested in the Utah Valley off Hwy 189, the easy 1.3-mile hike to the base of the waterfall is family friendly. A separate parking lot and 0.5-mile trek will take you to the top tier. But the falls are most impressive from the bottom; from there you can see most of the plummeting water in all its roaring glory. For the best lighting, visit in the afternoon.
The Nunns Park campground is half a mile from Bridal Veil Falls. There are 19 first-come, first-served campsites with access to picnic tables, fire rings, grills, flush toilets, water, trails, and fishing. There’s also an access point to the popular Provo River Parkway Trail. Even though it’s close to Provo, it’s quite peaceful.
“The camp spots here are super nice. The best part is how close it is to Provo. Super convenient. We didn’t stay very long but would recommend this spot to anyone who wants some nice car camping.” —The Dyrt camper Joshua C.
There’s not much to the town of Linville, North Carolina (with a population total of 564) on appearance—but what it lacks in size it makes up for in natural beauty. Located in Avery County, Linville is an unincorporated community stretching through the middle of miles and miles of recreational wonderland, from summertime hiking to cold weather skiing. Linville’s lack of incorporation means there are parts of this “city” that are literally wilderness.
Why Linville, NC is An Outdoor Lover’s Paradise
Linville is a part of North Carolina’s High Country, the seven northern counties in the western part of the state defined by their high altitude location in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their spot on the map makes them a favorite place for outdoor enthusiasts to visit and live.
Linville, NC is Home to North Carolina’s Only Caverns
In the early 1800s, a fishing expedition was shocked to see fish swimming in and out of what appeared to be solid rock. When they investigated, the fisherman found a small opening in the rock that lead to a subterranean recess. Inside was a hidden limestone cavern that came to be called Linville Caverns. The caverns opened to the public in 1937 and are the only caverns in North Carolina open for tours.
The natural limestone caverns feature stalactite and stalagmite formations and an underground stream where blind fish live. Informative and professional guides lead tours through the caverns seven days a week from March to November and on the weekends between December and February.
Linville is Surrounded by Awesome Mountain Towns
It’s hard to deny the charm of a small mountain town, and the area surrounding Linville, NC has tons of them. Some favorites include:
Blowing Rock has more than 100 shops and two dozen restaurants and was named the “prettiest small town in N.C.”
Boone is a funky little town with shops, restaurants and breweries. It’s also home to Appalachian State University.
Banner Elk is surrounded by some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies and has a booming arts and cultural scene.
Valle Crucis is a small town best known as the home of the original Mast General Store, built in 1883 and still in business.
It’s Home to the “Grand Canyon of the East”
When people say there’s “gorge”-ous scenery around Linville, NC, that’s no joke. Comprising nearly 12,000 acres around the Linville River, the Linville Gorge, sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is a rugged and spectacular place where people come to play. The gorge is home to a diverse amount of plant and animal life, and outdoor enthusiasts visit from all over North Carolina and beyond to hike, camp and climb here. Whether you spend your time at the bottom of the gorge fishing or wading through the Linville River, or climbing the peaks surrounding the gorge to take in the Blue Ridge views, Linville Gorge is a recreational playground you’ll want to return to again and again.
The Hiking is World-Class
The hiking in and around Linville, NC is some of the best in the state, leading to waterfalls, mountain peaks and twisted rock formations.
For a great view of the Linville River and Linville Gorge, try the popular Table Rock Trail located just outside the Linville Gorge Wilderness Boundary. This short (2 miles out and back) and moderately difficult trail leads to the summit of Table Rock and offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
Just down the road from the Table Rock Trail is the Hawksbill Mountain Trail, a less trafficked and shorter (1.5 mile round-trip) trail that leads to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. From here you’ll see 360-degree views of some of North Carolina’s most famous mountains: Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain. On a clear day you can even make out the skyline of Charlotte, nearly 90 miles away.
Finally, both Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain in the east, are near Linville. Both mountains and the recreational areas around them have a plethora of hiking and backcountry trails.
These ski resorts typically open in mid-November and each offers lessons for newbies and kids. There are a variety of ski runs to suit the comfort level of everyone, from the beginner to the most experienced skier.
Four of the Best Campgrounds Near Linville, NC
While the fun times around Linville, NC seem endless, finding a place to sleep in the area is necessary and (unsurprisingly) easy. With public campgrounds in a stones throw to some of the activities listed above, you might find more time for fun than for driving to and from the campground. Here are four excellent options in the Linville, NC area.
Located within hiking distance of Linville Gorge is Linville Falls Campground, offering tent or RV camping, flush toilets and drinking water. Forty sites are available for advanced reservation and 24 are available on a first come, first served basis. The campground is right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and makes a great home base for exploring the Linville Gorge and beyond.
“Cute campground with the cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen. If you’re in the tent sites, prepare to go on a little hike up some stairs to reach them. But they are lit with string lights on the way up.” — The Dyrt camper Julianne S.
About a 10-minute drive from Linville is Grandfather Mountain State Park, a large mountain park known for having some of the South’s most challenging terrain. The camping at Grandfather Mountain State Park is decidedly backcountry—there are 13 backpack camping sites along the park’s trail system, including at the Hi-Balsam Shelter.
Backpack camping requires a permit, and the sites are identifiable by signs and marked on the trail map with a camping icon. Water is available from streams, but make sure to filter or boil the water before use. This is bear country, so food and other scented items must be hung away from camp.
“We very much enjoyed our stay at the park! Centered right on top of Grandfather mountain, the hiking was incredible! Trails all around and beautiful views of those Blue Ridge mountains – see my pictures for views from the trails. Sites fill up quick, and of course tourists are abound especially during peak weekends (ie: summer through the fall) but overall an enjoyable stay!” —The Dyrt camper Brandon P.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and adjacent from Price Lake, Julian Price Campground is a great place to camp if your idea of fun involves getting out on the water. The campground has 185 campsites for both tent and RV campers. Of those sites, 185 are available on a first come, first served basis; the rest are reservable. The campground has flush toilets, showers, drinking water and a dump station, as well as both primitive and standard electric campsites.
“There is a spot within the park to rent kayaks which was great. There is a hiking trail that goes around the lake. There’s also a trail that you can access from the park that leads to Hebron Rock Colony which is an incredible hiking trail. The trail follows a river with lots of great swimming holes and the rock colony is incredible. Awesome place to camp!” —The Dyrt camper Danielle L.
Mount Mitchell State Park—one of the most popular tourist destinations near Linville, NC —has a small, quiet campground with nine non-electric tent-only sites. The campground is open May through October and has drinking water and flush toilets but no shower facilities. When the campground is full, many campers take to the trails and find a campsite in the forest. Trailside campgrounds are ample, but if you plan to make one home for the night make sure to register your vehicle with the park office before heading out.
“Despite its small size, this campground has hot showers, restrooms during the summer months and sites have picnic tables and fire rings. The views here are incredible and the access to the Blue Ridge Parkway can’t be beat.” — The Dyrt camper Sarah C.